Things I have learned

I Have Returned with News of My Wanderings

I guess by now it’s clear that if I don’t post for five months it’s because I have been head-down-and-go on yet another “final” draft of this novel I’ve been working on. I still can’t write “my novel” without wincing internally—I can’t claim ownership of the thing that contains every ounce of my inner life for the last seven years. Who would put all their spiritual eggs in one basket like that? Just who do I think I am?

I feel like I’ve just shat out the digital equivalent of an overstuffed drug balloon (switching metaphors, sorry), I’ve been hiding in the handicap stall of an airport restroom and after five months I’ve managed to coax this massive thing out of my most shameful orifice and then watch it sink to the bottom of an unfamiliar toilet bowl. Relieved, I now pull up my pants (i.e., start blogging again) and stare at it wondering if I should fish it out and try to sell it to someone so they can possibly enjoy or benefit from the drugs contained therein (i.e., email it to my agent), or if I should just flush it away so I won’t embarrass myself further. Would you like some butt drug? Knowing that it may be so weak you can barely feel its effects, or so good it will give you a high that will last for days and you’ll think about it the rest of your life. That’s all—a modest goal, that’s what I’m shooting for, to provide a life-changing transformation for you, triggered by the thing that fell out of my butt and into the hands of a literary agent who will slit open the balloon, put a little bit on her pinkie and, I hope, say, Hmm, yeah. We can make a lot of money off of this.

LET’S GO BACK IN TIME, SHALL WE?

January happened and we got to February and I stopped noveling long enough to attend the Santa Barbara Film Festival. My friend is a stringer for one of those celebrity grocery-store magazines and she makes decent money covering red-carpet events, but she wasn’t available for part of the festival so she asked me if I could do it.

The magazine sent me the event schedule for the weekend they needed me: Rami Malek (Friday), Glenn Close (Saturday), Melissa McCarthy (Sunday), all of whom were accepting awards for standing out in their fields. I had to DuckDuckGo Rami Malek (I am old enough to be his mother), and immediately thought, Oh no. I hadn’t seen his movie, the Freddy Mercury thing, and I couldn’t figure out a way to make that happen before the event. So I looked at some stills from the movie, wondering what I could possibly ask him that would be relevant. Here are some sample questions I came up with:

  1. Were the fake teeth uncomfortable?

  2. Did you like the way you looked in the fake teeth?

  3. Did they let you keep the fake teeth?

  4. etc.

Glenn Close I was a bit more relaxed about. I hadn’t seen her most recent movie, either, but I have, in fact, seen Glenn Close movies. My Glenn Close questions were going to be:

  1. What are you reading these days?

  2. Kindle or hardcover?

  3. Blah blah, comfortable shoes and general DGAF stuff, just between us pre-elderly gals

Sadly, the celebrity magazine gave Glenn Close a hard pass, because of the usual ageist bullshit. And my friend would be back in time to take care of Melissa McCarthy. So I put on my giant Trapper John coat on a rainy winter night to wait on the other side of a metal crowd-control fence hopefully until Rami Malek walked by so I could shout the questions that the magazine wanted me to ask:

  1. Have you tried the keto diet?

  2. What’s your skin care regime?

  3. Who do you think is going to win The Bachelor this season?

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Fortunately for me, Rami Malek ignored me completely (possibly because of the usual ageist bullshit, or possibly because I was dressed like Elliott Gould) and chose to talk to the adorable reporter from the UCSB Daily Nexus who was standing next to me. So I just stuck out my phone and recorded their entire conversation, figuring celebrity magazine could use those quotes if they wanted to. But that wasn’t the end of it. Next I went into the Arlington Theatre (and got grilled by the Daily Nexus girl about how I got the sweet gig reporting for celebrity magazine) and discreetly held my phone to record Mr. Malek being interviewed by a film festival guy about his entire life from birth to the Golden Globes, and then went home and transcribed everything so celebrity magazine writers could have every audible word by six o’clock the following morning.

The interview was interesting, and I came away with respect for Mr. Malek and the work he’s put in to get this far. But I have never cursed a job so much or as often as the three-and-a-half hours it took me to transcribe his one-hour-and-ten-minutes of talking. I finally got to bed around two-thirty a.m. after eight hours of this nonsense, and you know what I mainly learned? There’s no glamour on this side of the camera.

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That photo on the left? That was the red carpet, the whole thing. It was duct tape and klieg lights and tired venue managers and some anxious reporters for local news web sites who came an hour early just in case. I was fortunate to be standing next to a photographer (above, right) who was willing to chat to pass the time. When he told me his name was Rod Rolle, I was all, Like Esther Rolle? And he gave me this look, like, You remember Esther Rolle? And he said she was one of his cousins and I yelled, NO WAY! startling the gen-Zers all around me who did not share my fond cultural memories of Good Times and Maude. That was the most glamorous thing that happened to me that night, meeting Esther Rolle’s cousin. That and Lucy Boynton’s gorgeous peacock dress and Chinese-opera eye makeup. Thank you, Lucy, for bringing your A game to our little duct-taped award ceremony. And thanks also to this guy:

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Joe Mazzello played the bass player in the Freddy Mercury movie and none of the reporters was making much of a fuss over him, but I got a bit giddy when the actors started showing up and I yelled, “Nice shoes!” at him, and he perked up and said, “Thanks! I don’t know what kind they are. The suit is Top Man, that’s all I know.” I pretended to write that down, and then I asked him if I could take a picture of his shoes and he was fine with that. The light was terrible but we both acted like that was also fine, and I was relieved to have had at least one low-stress conversation with an actor that night, because this whole celebrity thing drives me a little bit nuts. I get uncontrollably star-struck, mostly when in the presence of writers I admire, but I found myself getting super anxious as Rami Malek got closer and fans started screaming his name. It’s an important practice for all of us but for me in particular to remind myself that people, if you’ll forgive me, all have the same share of cosmic divinity. I mean, as an American I know we’re all equal in theory, but it’s never really true, and I often involuntarily elevate some and denigrate others. There’s a wonderful Buddhist story about an old, venerated monk coming to visit a small temple, and all the temple monks lined up to greet him, but one monk noticed that his thoughts about this visitor were making him anxious, so he went away and meditated for twelve years until he realized that even a venerated person is still just a human being.

So if I don’t post for another twelve years, you’ll know that’s what I’m doing.

LINKS OVER TROUBLED WATER

Here’s a music video by the guy who directed Chernobyl! It’s a little bare-bones, visually, but the tune has been embedded in my mind for a week and caused me to follow two Deee-Lite-themed playlists on Spotify.

I have a bunch of interesting links to share with you but they deserve more than to be tacked onto the end of an already too-long post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

And Now it is the Future Again

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The lead-up to Christmas this year was really fun. Nature wasn’t trying to murder us (compared to last year, when we had the Thomas Fire crawling up our butts and then the mud literally killing people), and we had enough money to throw around on superfluous things like fire wood and snacks, so we loaded up. Christmas day itself was a bit pressured. There were some sneaky “Did I spend too much money on you?” feelings and their terrible confederates, “You didn’t spend enough money on me.” So at dinner time Jack and I ended up in one of those stupid bickering whisper fights that isn’t about what it’s really about, and we ate our Christmas dinner fried chicken and waffles with a palpable chill in the air. Jackson didn’t really notice, or maybe he did and knew how to avoid the whole thing by falling asleep on the couch while we were still eating.

The day after Christmas I had to go back to work, which gave me some emotional distance from the previous day while simultaneously allowing my family to wonder if I was going to feel martyred about leaving when they had another day off. So when dinner time rolled around again and Jack was all, Are you done yelling at me? I was all, I don’t know! Maybe! Maybe not!

And then I asked myself, Is this really who you want to be? And I know it sounds really hokey but that’s all it took for me to snap out of it and A Better Me to take over and say she was sorry and grow the fuck up. The holidays trigger some childish reactions to stress in a lot of us, and since I no longer drink my problems away I need to somehow remember to invite my better self to step in when things get ridiculous. Maybe some knuckle tattoos would remind me. G-R-O-W-A S-P-I-N-E would work, if we’re going to use thumbs.

RESOLUTIONS

Jackson always says that he won’t wear anything that isn’t comfortable, and he says it with the sort of mystified air you might take on while watching a woman struggle to zip up her jeans after a turkey dinner. Yesterday one of his girl friends came over wearing a head-to-toe sloth onesie so I thought, If all the teens are doing it maybe I’ll try this comfort thing, too. I don’t want to get rid of my pencil skirts yet, but if you’re looking to throw off some unreasonable beauty standards I urge you to read this post by a grown woman who said Fuck it, it’s sneakers from now on.

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“I paired my new sneakers with floral mini-dresses, with shorts, with jeans and with slacks, and instead of picking up oxfords or loafers for autumn, I just kept buying sneakers. I'd forgotten how light they were, how comfortable and how I was able to walk around without spending the following days complaining about how sore I was from simply being alive.” 

“GIMLET HOLES IN A PIECE OF PORK”

How to take awesome food photos, a useful set of guidelines by Helen Rosner.

How Peter Jackson Made WWI Footage Seem Astonishingly New. [NY Times] “The clarity was such that these soldiers on the film came alive,” Jackson said in a phone interview describing the restoration process. “Their humanity just jumped out at you. This footage has been around for 100 years and these men had been buried behind a fog of damage, a mask of grain and jerkiness and sped-up film. Once restored, it’s the human aspect that you gain the most.”

Yearcompass, a free tool that helps you look at the last year and make plans for the next one. I’m excited to sit down and give this a try.

Small Desire

Last night I was reading the book I'm reading about Zen Buddhism and I came across something that I had to read three or four times until it all really sunk in:

The first thing great human beings need, according to Dogen, is "small desire."
Dogen quoted Buddha, who said, "People of abundant desire abundantly seek gain, and so their suffering also is abundant. People of small desire never curry favor and bend in order to gain the minds of others. They are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things, they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction."
Notice that we're talking about small desire here and not some imaginary state of desirelessness. We can never be completely free from desire, anyhow. But the less desire you have, the less of a pain in the ass your life will be. It's only when you desire things that you can't be yourself, and that you end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.

I feel like the last sentence is grammatically a little weird, which is part of the reason I had to read it over a few times, but I'll go ahead and assume it was the author's clever way of making sure the reader stops and puzzles the concept through. You can't be yourself when you desire things, and when you desire things you also end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.

Desire things like what? I mean, I desire a job so I can help pay the rent, I don't think that's too much to ask. But it's the unbalanced desires that make you miserable. Sex comes to mind (as it does occasionally, despite my advanced age). I was always the girl who got totally tongue-tied and shy around boys I really, really liked because what did I want? I wanted them to like me back so much that out love would consume our very souls and melt us into some sort of pillar of eternal, mystical oneness, but I was too embarrassed to say all of that so I just acted quiet and creepy and, gee, I wonder why they'd never pick up when I called?

But more than that this quote makes me happy because it directly addresses the main fear that blocks people from their own creative expression, whether in writing or with music or, I don't know, wearing homemade hats to church. Because when you desire approval/success/fame, it's harder to just let loose and see what happens when you express yourself and then shape it into something unique that makes you glad. 

We now turn to this Shouts and Murmurs piece from a few years back that I photocopied and stuck to the staff bulletin board at the library because I loved it so much. No one ever commented on it so I can only assume that all my coworkers were too ashamed to admit that they were illiterate. If you haven't clicked the link and read it yet, which I'm sure you'll do in just a minute, it's entitled, "Book-club Guide to a Remaindered Book," By Rebecca Mead and George Prochnik, and it's a wonderful list of discussion questions for an unsuccessful book of fiction. The Venn diagram of Buddha and the New Yorker overlaps in the very first paragraph:

1. When the author’s agent initially asked the author who he thought the readers of his proposed book would be and he defensively replied, “Everyone,” do you think the author should have immediately realized that there is a thin line between everyone and no one?

True wisdom is everywhere.

There I was, standing in line at Taco Bell

I take Jackson to Taco Bell maybe once or twice a month so that he can have tacos whose shells are made out of giant Doritos. I have eaten one of these amazing creations myself and though it's unclear whose hand I would shake were I to congratulate the inventor of these marvelous things, I don't make a habit of them because they're so delicious it makes me suspicious of what's in them. It seems simple enough, but I know they have some terrible, addictive ingredient in there that I can't help but want more of, despite my better judgment, like lard, or Channing Tatum's tears.

So there we were, waiting for Jackson's tacos, standing next to a white, middle-class, hetero couple who were also waiting for whatever they ordered, when in walked a large, middle-aged white man whose shorts were hanging halfway down his ass. The woman and I looked at each other.

"You can't look away from something like that," she said.

"If I were a different kind of person, it would be all over Instagram right now," I said.

"The People of Taco Bell," she said.

"Mom, sshhh," Jackson said. 

Then her boyfriend piped up and said, "Excuse me, sir! Your shorts are hanging down, you might want to pull them back up!"

"Oh my God," said the woman, "What are you doing?"

"I'm telling him that we noticed --"

"I'm sorry?" said the man with the prodigious butt crack as he pulled up his giant basketball shorts. "I'm hearing impaired!"

"It's okay!" yelled her boyfriend. "You're fine now!"

"I didn't hear what were you trying to tell me," yelled the man.

"I didn't want to embarrass you!" yelled the boyfriend.

"Oh my God," hissed the woman. "Why did you do that?"

"It's a side effect of being brain damaged," said the boyfriend, "I have no filter! It's okay!"

"No, it's not!" she said.

"And now we're the assholes," I said. Terrible, judgmental assholes making light of some man who was simply out living his life and couldn't hear that his shorts were falling down, and it took a brain-damaged man to bring us to our senses. 

She sighed. Her boyfriend picked up their order.

"Have a good night!" he said loudly to everyone in Taco Bell as they walked out the door.

And it was then that I vowed to only go to drive-through restaurants for the rest of my life in order to spare humanity from having to deal with me. Jackson, unfortunately, is stuck with my faulty example of adulthood full-time.

PART TWO OF THIS AMAZING UPDATE

The reason I skipped last month's monthly post is that I had set a September 30 deadline for myself to finish the second draft of this novel I'm writing, and that deadline made a lovely whooshing sound as it went by. October 30 is likely to go by as well without a completed second draft, and while I am only four chapters away from finishing this beast, I find that a lot of loose ends need tying up and I can't just send it off into the world with a note pinned to it that says, "Please read this, it's pretty much done but I can probably make it better." So I'll be going back to it this afternoon, because that's what keeps me off the streets and away from harassing the hearing impaired.

AND SO WE MUST CONCLUDE

Every post needs a photo, so here's one I took in the library yesterday. I was busy erasing all the underlining someone did in a book about Mozart's life when I came upon this persnickety little correction, done in pen. In pen. GODDAMNIT, PEOPLE.

According to Grammar Girl, this pen-correcting person is WRONG and I am tempted to go back to work tomorrow and amend his or her work with a little Post-It errata note. The library vigilante within me is currently squaring off with the Joe Orton-style library vandal, so no one's really going to win. (I know, I am full of links today, but if you're only going to click on one, choose the last one, I beg of you.)

THUS ENDETH THE UPDATE.

And if you go camping in drag it's called Vamping

Here is the joke I made up last night: Q: What's it called when you get your period while you're camping?

A: Cramping!

One thing that Jack loves above all things is camping, and one thing I fear above all others is camping, and so up until last week we have spent every moment of our lives as a couple not-camping. Jack would take Jackson up to camp in Big Sur every summer and try to patch the sad camping-hole in his soul while I'd stay at home and guard our stuff, reveling in clean linens and locked doors and the sterile, bug-free existence that modern civilization provides.

I have been camping three times in my life, all of them terrible, sleepless affairs on lumpy ground, soaked with rain, or intruded upon by bears. I am at two with nature, as the saying goes, and despite Jack's assurances that he would provide me with a four-star campsite -- a veritable Mandalay Bay of roughing it -- one thing I knew he wouldn't be able to control was me getting carsick on the way to the Nature. Nature has some twisty roads into it, for some reason. Teddy Roosevelt and his horse both had something to prove, no doubt. But this summer I decided that maybe if I loved my husband I ought to give him this one thing, this camping thing, so here is everything I did/you can do to successfully avoid nausea on the road to Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur. I offer this list for posterity and nothing more, for I am not some asshole blogger being paid to pretend she knows more than you about anything. If I were I would have titled this post, "Ten Ways To Avoid Carsickness This Summer!" and been paid $500 for it. I could still use the $500, so if you find this post useful, please PayPal a lot of money to me.

1. You have to want to not get sick. Some people have inner ear problems, or they're undergoing chemo, or God knows what's wrong, and I'm deeply sorry if that's you, for that sucks. However, other people (and this used to be me) unconsciously get sick for the attention, or to get out of doing things out in the world, or they just assume that's the way they are. "I get carsick." Well, maybe you do, but maybe you don't have to. Do you want to try?

2. Do not hit the road hungover. The last time we drove to Big Sur I had a wee bit of wine the night before, which led to insomnia and dehydration, all of which ensured that I wanted to barf all the way up Highway 1 the next day.

3. Hydration. So simple. You have a bottle of water? Drink it. Drink two. If someone complains that they don't want to stop for you to pee, say to them, "Would you rather stop to have me barf?" If they still complain, roll down your window and barf all over the side of their car. That will show them how serious you are.

4. Have a nice, fatty meal. I had eggs with buttered toast before we hit the road. It doesn't have to be a huge meal, if that sort of thing makes you nervous, if you think, "What if this doesn't work? It will just be more for me to barf." If you're afraid of eating too much on a nervous stomach, I don't know what to tell you apart from what I told myself: "You have to get something down, protein and fat. Figure it out."

 5. Anti-emetics are our friends. In Morro Bay I bought some off-brand, non-drowsy, pseudo Dramamine from an angry, sarcastic young woman at the grocery store. I'm not a big fan of too many OTC drugs, but it was $2.99, and I'm sorry she hates her life or whatever, but I took half a dose and immediately felt like Wonder Woman.

6. There are natural quease-easers, too. As a back-up I also had a bottle of herbs from the acupuncturist, they're called Curing Pills, you can get them in Asian markets, and I have never had a digestive issue that hasn't vanished within ten minutes of taking them. AND I had a box of hard-core ginger candy with me, and every half hour I'd eat one because ginger is a digestive stimulant (as opposed to peppermint, which is a digestive coolant, but which works well against nausea, too, as long as it's real peppermint, not just peppermint flavoring). I am also thinking of getting a couple of magical anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands for next time -- clang! clang! Wonder Woman!

7. Do you want to drive? Some people feel better when they're driving, but I let Jack do it because it was his truck, and his patience and nerves of steel were what was needed for Highway 1, whereas if I were behind the wheel no doubt I'd be too absorbed in prayer not to drive us off a cliff.

8. Pat yourself on the back when you get there, you did not want to barf even once!

9. Except then your period came on like gangbusters. I'm sorry, I have no advice, that part of your body is totally out of my control. Would you like to hear about the convenience of Diva Cups? No?

10. Ha ha, unreliable narrator. Guess what? Half of this post is a lie because once we got to Big Sur, Jack had booked us into a cabin just in case I changed my mind about this whole outdoors thing and crawled into the bed of his truck to die. So at the end of a long day of hanging around the campsite with friends eating weenies, going for bicycle rides, waving at deer and turkeys, taunting squirrels with Doritos, drinking beer, and soaking up the glorious Parkitecture, we would drive up the hill and sleep in not-tents. But now that I seem more amenable to the not-indoors, we're going to try camping a little closer to home before the summer's over, and Jack has already started his grocery list. And I still managed to write what sounds like a sponsored post for a group of products that paid me no money to endorse them, in a way that still makes me sound like some asshole blogger who probably knows less than you do about not throwing up. You're an expert at not-barfing, aren't you?

Goddamnit, sometimes you just have to barf. It's okay, you'll feel better.

Highway 1

An un-Photoshopped photo of California Highway 1 on July 22, 2014.

And if you go camping in the rain it's called Damping.

And if you go camping with Lionel Hampton accompanying you on vibes it's called Hamping.

And if you go camping in your pajamas it's called Jamping.

And if you read a book in your tent all night it's called Lamping.

And if you go with a baby it's called Pamping.

 

Also, there are so many elephant seals just laying around on the beach on the north side of Hearst Castle, above the zebra herd (California is a crazy place, if you haven't heard). After watching them do nothing for awhile I said to Jack, "If you're a stressed-out executive in this life, in your next life you get to be one of those."

Elephant Seals Outside of Cambria, California from Eden M. Kennedy on Vimeo.

That dude was the ambitious one.

But I'm still not going to join a gym or stop drinking

Thus beginneth another year at Fussy.org. Updates for 2014 will be monthly, if you're wondering whether you should drop me from your feed reader or not. Blogging: it's less urgent than ever! I'm not one to do year-end roundups, but I would like to remember December 2013 as the month I realized I not only needed to but had the resources and energy to stop half-assing so much of my life. (Brace yourself for an explanation that might involve yoga.)

Normally (when I'm not sitting in bed playing iPad solitaire) my life strategy* has been to stand just inside the sideline of [something] and see if I like/can succeed at [it] without putting a whole lot of effort, focus, or hope into making [it] work. The list of [things] I have approached this way includes knitting, sex, college, buying a car, parenthood, cooking, working in publishing, relationships, and preparing for my own death. You truly can make a life for yourself by relying on other people's energy and commitment, especially if you don't mind knitting sweaters that don't fit or eating partially-cooked chicken.

*"Why are you such a fatalist?" my father once asked me in frustration when I was a teenager, to which I did not have the vocabulary to reply, "Because I'm smart enough to get decent grades without trying too hard, I'm pretty enough to get attention without trying at all, you're emotionally abusive and controlling, Mom is a detached and passive female role model, the Catholic shame I've been infused with from birth controls every other aspect of my life, and I've learned to feel helpless most of the time." God, being a teenager was the worst.

The sad irony, of course, is that trying to save yourself from disappointment by not really caring so much how something works out will lead to having to accept disappointment as a result of almost everything you do. Now, it's true that some degree of disappointment is inevitable in a lot of what life brings, and it can be used to spur us on to refine what we want, learn new skills, find friends that really get us, and figure out how much yarn we need to make the sweater beforehand, instead of running out three-quarters of the way through.

Jack's new sweater

Yes, that's Jack's Christmas sweater, and I ran out of yarn three-quarters of the way through. I started it last year (unsurprisingly, given that it's me we're talking about, it was supposed to be last year's Christmas sweater). I just assumed that the box of vintage Irish wool that I found in my mom's house after she died was enough to make a sweater. And it would have been enough, if my husband were the size of Reese Witherspoon.

Anyway, the sweater humbled me. I had to buy different yarn to finish it, and it's weird and poochy around the shoulders in a way that blocking hasn't been able to solve, and I'm about to accept the fact that I need to rip out the entire top of the sweater and knit it again to make it right. And I can't tell you how much it shocks me to hear myself say that. Historically, I have not been a person who goes back and fixes her mistakes, I've been the person who says fuck it and shoves a year's worth of work to the back of the closet in chagrin and goes to bed to play iPad solitaire.

But what really drove home the idea of slowing down and doing things right (here comes the yoga): back bends. I hate them. I'm afraid of them. They require a huge amount of openness in the chest and shoulders along with leg strength, butt awareness, and a fair amount of spinal flex, none of which I was graced with at birth. For years I've been hurting myself over and over again by sort of heaving myself up and doing them in this bad, misaligned way and feeling envious of the people who could drop back into these delicious, flawless arches. Most days I'd just avoid doing back bends altogether. Which is a perfectly fine attitude (something hurts: stop doing it), but just underneath giving up was this nagging belief that the poses you hate are the ones you need the most, so I'd keep coming back to back bends but I'd continue to approach them in the least-yogic way possible: grit teeth, hold breath, wrench self up. Why? Because that's what we do when we're scared, and that's what I did, hurting myself again and again, I guess because my ego couldn't comprehend that there was something that didn't come easily to me. I belonged to the looks and good grades come easy club, right? So why couldn't I skip all the hard work and years of slowly developing the strength and openness I needed and make my body do this one thing?

In yoga they sometimes talk about "the gift of inflexibility," which I'm finally beginning to appreciate. Not being naturally flexible means you have to develop awareness and you have to develop compassion for yourself, and your ego has to back the fuck off because it might take you years to do something that the guy on the next mat can do the first time he tries it. So it's a "gift" because that guy can wander off and be amazing and buff without developing any of the interior qualities that you, if your ego can face you rolling around on your mat like a stranded tortoise, will discover inside yourself -- things like patience, bravery, humility, and being able to laugh at yourself because let's face it, you look like a stranded tortoise lying there. And your ass is really lumpy.

So this is my new year's resolution: to do what doesn't come easily at first, to do stuff right. To listen to people who know what they're talking about and let them guide me when my internal guidance has led me to a dead end. To be the best _________ [friend, knitter, worker, writer, dog washer, wife, mother, woman, human] that it's possible for me to be from moment to moment without gritting my teeth and holding my breath and heaving myself in and praying for it to be over. Standing still, looking, breathing, not running away from others, not running away from myself. Not trying to skip to the finished thing without having done all the work that leads up to the sweater that actually fits, the back bend that seems to do itself, the novel that works, the promise fulfilled, the deeply satisfied existence.

A progression of healing thoughts

This morning I was driving down Alamar when I saw a slightly ragged-looking couple on the street in front of the Alzheimer's home. The man looked upset and the woman waved at me violently and shrieked, "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO GO 35, BITCH!" with a horrifying expression on her face. I glanced at my speedometer -- I was going 37 m.p.h., and my first thought was a prim, "Clearly that woman does not know what a car going approximately 35 miles per hour looks like." I braked slightly and looked in my rear-view mirror -- she was still glaring at me, and my second thought was of a photograph from one of my dad's books about the Holocaust where a woman with the same expression of fury and disgust on her face was yelling at a group of Jews being rounded up.

And then I was mad that seeing my brake lights might have made her feel like she'd won. The truth was that I braked because the light on the corner was red and I didn't want to roll into oncoming traffic, and now I was thinking about Nazis.

Thought #3: "Nazis!"

Thought #4: "That bitch."

Then I forced myself to calm down because it's unhealthy to let a stranger fuck up your day when you weren't even doing anything wrong. (Anything that wrong. After all, she was correct in pointing out that I was not going the speed limit. LET'S GIVE HER THAT.)

Thought #5: "OK, wait. What if she's really upset about something, let's look at it from her point of view. Maybe her dog just got run over."

Thought #6: "OK, but it wasn't me who ran over her dog, or ran into her mother who wandered away from the Alzheimer's home, and all that anger should be directed toward the people who are truly responsible for her having to put her mother in a home where she's dying of Alzheimer's without remembering who her daughter is. I know how that feels, lady, but at some point you've got to suck it up and quit yelling at strangers driving by in the street."

Thought #7: "What Law of Attraction bullshit have I done to have a stranger yell at me like that?"

When we were about a mile away I asked Jackson if he'd remembered to put his homework in his backpack, and he hadn't. So we drove back home, got the homework, and passed the Alzheimer's place again but the woman was gone.

Thought #8: "I have no way of knowing what the truth of her situation is, so I need to let go of this whole thing, Byron Katie. She absolutely should have been in the street yelling at cars, that was exactly what needed to happen at that point in time, given a series of events that are totally invisible to me, and it would be insane for me to try to fly back in time with super mind control and try to change it. RADICAL ACCEPTANCE, COMRADE."

Then I had a happier thought.

Thought #9: "Maybe she has a superpower that enables her to detect when a car is going two miles over the speed limit."

Thought #10: "Well, at least I finally have something to blog about."

 

I'm not even sure what racism is anymore

Me: I need to go to the Water Store and get more distilled water.

Jackson: That is the whitest thing anyone, anywhere has ever said.

Me: Oh, well, excuse me, the first person who told me that we should all drink distilled water was black. His mom was super into it.

Jackson: It's still the whitest thing I've ever heard you say.

Me: Well, I am pretty white.

Jackson: Yes.

Me: But how can it be a white thing if black people drink distilled water, too?

Jackson: Are you calling me racist?

Me: I don't know, am I? Or are you saying that "white" is a synonym for "living in a privileged bubble."

Jackson: Yes, yes I am.

Me: And I am a privileged person who will pay for something that comes out of a faucet for free.

Jackson: Pretty much.

Me: OK, but if doing that is "white," are you saying that a privileged black person who buys distilled water is "white," or are you saying that black people can be just as privileged and deluded by health fads as white people?

Jackson: . . . the second one.

Me: So, maybe just say privileged in the future if that's what you mean.

Jackson: Mom, you are so white.

Me: Okey dokey!

 

So I might have been at this for a year now

This is for a person who wasn't sure what they wanted me to draw. "A hedgehog?" they wondered, or perhaps, "Peewee!" So I drew Peewee and two hedgehogs, and then I misspelled Peewee and painted the hedgehogs purple.

watercolor peewee

I love you enough to keep waiting like this

Some time ago a friend told me about a birthday or Mother's Day card her now-adult son had made her when he was a kid. Not one for Hallmarkian displays of sentiment, inside it he wrote, "I love you more than five hundred bucks." I always thought that was a pretty good approximation of how much love you can have for some people. Five hundred bucks is a lot of money whether you're a kid or not; I don't have anywhere near that in my wallet right now. I briefly had more than that in my bag a couple of weeks ago, after we'd sold a bunch of my deceased mother-in-law's jewelry to a local guy who only paid in cash, but I only had to worry about it for about fifteen minutes or so.

  • I love you more than how anxiously I drove to the bank to deposit that cash before someone realized they should rob me
  • I love you more than the relief I had afterward (and the spinach and goat cheese crepe you bought me for lunch at Le Petit Valentien)
  • I love you more than 7.5 hours of sleep per night, which I keep not getting because of you (JACKSON)
  • I love you enough to spend two years knitting a sweater even though I'm worried it won't fit you very well when it's done
  • I love you enough to watch three seasons of a show you adore even though I have to concentrate more than I'd prefer to follow the plot
  • I love you enough to wash, dry, and fold your laundry, but I will not put it away because I am not your maid

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I finished the first draft of my novel on Monday, 49,000 words, all of them mine, every stupid last one of them. The manuscript is a mess and the ending is awkward and the number one thing that feels great about it, apart from the sense of achievement (I wrote a novel! No, you can't read it yet!), is the fact that I went to bed on Monday night going, Hmm, well, now what? and I woke up Tuesday morning finally understanding the whole purpose of the thing and knowing everything I had to do next to get it into shape. I was just lying there and it came to me. Because I am magical.

And then I forced myself to take the day off and not think about it. (I have a lot of blogging, drawing, and knitting to catch up on.)(Oh, god, so much drawing!)

My blind hope when I started working on this book last September was that if I just trusted and typed out words that made English sentences, maybe something deeper would activate while I worked. I recommend this process if you're interested in becoming more comfortable with uncertainty and don't mind running around in circles for a year. It's totally demoralizing, but in the end it kind of works. I also recommend Alan Watt's The 90-Day Novel, which totally spoke to me on the woo-woo level where I spend half my time anyway (though in my hands it became The 385-Day Novel).

When I started I didn't have a plot, all I had was an interesting situation for two people to be in, a husband and a wife, with some sort of offspring (male? female? toddler? high school sophomore?) to be determined later. Almost as soon as I began writing I realized that the husband needed to be the wife's character and the wife needed to be the husband. When that finally felt right, then the age (fifteen) of their child (daughter) suddenly became clear. Next, other characters began popping up and doing what they needed to do, situations began suggesting themselves and were duly explored, paragraphs were written and either kept or shelved, and third-person omniscient changed into first person halfway through and then back to third and I'm really not looking forward to sorting that out.

Some days I'd write 90 words, some days I'd write 2,000. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to build an air-conditioned birdhouse with no blueprints, or put together a jigsaw puzzle of the sky, or flex a muscle in my head that I wasn't sure even existed. One day about six months ago I felt the barest glimmer of something new inside coming to life, and (I don't know how to describe it without sounding like I've lost my mind) what I was doing suddenly felt so precious, felt so sacred, that I didn't want to move or think or breathe for fear of scaring it away. I sat so carefully and gently, building my birdhouse so respectfully -- because suddenly a bird that was supposed to be extinct was on my windowsill looking at me.

Along with that bird came a feeling that I thought was extinct. It felt like being in a kind of love. And I apologize for all of this if the book ends up being total horse shit, but it felt like finding the thing or the one who (perhaps? maybe? if I don't push or get clingy and ruin it?) was going to fall for me, too, all the way. The feeling was completely mutual. It's something that I haven't felt for a very long time, not since I used to write poetry. It seems particular to writing, for me? It didn't last for very long, maybe a day or two, but it was the luckiest, scariest feeling in the world while it was in bloom.

It faded a bit after that, but everything fell into a nice routine. I began to really trust myself now. It felt like I/we were building something with a lot of potential. Of course, there were times when I felt like picking a fight, or ignored it for days on end, but that all felt like part of the process. On bad days I was bored and just went through the motions. But I didn't want to throw in the towel so I talked it through with a third party until I reached a new understanding. I apologized for being so distant, I resolved to try a different approach, to be attentive and adjust my pace, to take breaks when I needed them, but to keep showing up. And that's how we made it work.

The Rules of Writing an Interesting Story say that you're supposed to be throwing bombs at your characters all the way through so they can battle their way past every obstacle in search of their goal, their grail, their Rosebud, their Revolution, their Happily Ever After, and through this journey they refine their fondest wishes and grow and change and become worth following for 300 pages or so. Maybe that's old fashioned, to tell a story like that, and that's fine. I'm interested in seeing what happens when you follow those rules, and then maybe to see how far they'll bend. As we all know, you need to learn the rules before you can throw them away, if you're going to say anything new.

Now onto draft two! This post is too long! Here's a photo from my dog's Instagram account. Peewee always has something new to say.

the wee

My Weird Little Trip to CVS

Recently I had the opportunity to explain to a Millenial what a bottle deposit is. I wouldn't have bothered except that when she asked the cashier, who was ringing up the woman's giant bottle of Jack Daniel's, what the extra .05 cents was for, the cashier got flustered and said, "I don't know," in this dismissive way, like, "Whatever. Who understands anything?" Well, listen, CVS cashier with the Bettie Page do and knuckle tattoos, I don't normally go around shaming cashiers for not understanding every little burden you pass on to the public but why not let's try to dispel a minor ignorance whenever possible?

I took a breath before I butted in and said, "It's to encourage you to bring the bottle back to a recycling center, then you'll get your five cents back." And the woman was all, "Oh!" *flash of understanding* so I left it at that. I left it to her to recall the times she might have seen people digging through garbage to collect cans in order to turn them in for cash, since she might enjoy extrapolating this for herself in a quiet moment. Having the opportunity to relate new information to our own experience is what really cements a new concept, don't you think? Whether in the classroom or pre-paying for our hangovers at the drug store.

But then I got to thinking. Since I pay my bottle deposits and then toss my bottles into the recycling bin without getting my money back I was suddenly all, "WAIT A MINUTE WHERE'S ALL THAT MONEY I WANT IT BACK." (The Internet assures me that unclaimed funds collected on behalf of the bottle bill go to "program administration" (program administrators' annual Christmas trip to Honolulu) and "grants" (breakfast beers and Tylenol).)

On the heels of this new awareness came a moral dilemma. I was next up and the total for the box of push pins I was buying so Jackson's taped-up posters would quit falling off his wall was something like $3.31 so I gave Bettie Page a $10 bill and a penny. I've been making change semi-professionally for 35 years, sadly, so I do that shit all the time, here's two pennies and a dime and three extra dollars, just so I don't get a pound of small change back from every transaction. It makes me feel like my father but my collarbones were once made uneven from the weight of my shoulder bag and I am not having any of that anymore.

Maybe the line behind me was throwing her off, the feeling that all of these people were staring at her and willing her to go faster. I gave her $10.01. She stared at the penny and then looked at me like, What is this? Then she turned and punched $1.00 into the cash register. Naturally, the cash register said, A dollar? Did you not hear me correctly? I need $3.31. So Bettie goes, Oh, um, fuck, and punches in $10.00. Now the cash register was all, YOU GAVE ME $11.00 FOR SOME REASON and the cashier was all, GAAHHH HERE TAKE ALL THE MONEY, and just shoved a bunch of change into my hand. I didn't even question it, even though I knew she'd just paid me to shoplift a half-price box of push pins, because at that point I was 93% Wow, you really don't care you just want to get rid of me, and 7% YAY FREE PUSH PINS!

I'm not normally one to take advantage in these situations, but fuck this CVS. The same thing happened to me there last month with a cashier who was never trained on how to make change without depending on the register to do it for him, and who just mashed a bunch of buttons on the key pad and then probably lost his job at the end of the shift because his receipts were like math without numbers. But with that guy I took the time to recount my change and gave him back the extra, mostly just because he seemed kind, and who wants to see kids get fired in this economy? But with Knuckles I was less sympathetic, and I don't know if it was from some projected misogyny, or irritation at her hair-do, or the instinct to distance myself from an imminent anxiety supernova, but if I were her manager I would have somebody stand with her to oversee that shit or I'd put her back in the stock room until she realized that what she really needed to do was finish school and quit dating drug addicts.

THAT WAS A REALLY LONG STORY, MRS. KENNEDY

Well, sorry, I seem to really get bent over details these days. I am writing a novel sort of just to see if I can do it, and I'm finding that inventing emotional and physical detail like all that above is not nearly as easy as just remembering it.

OH, BOY

Last night I was coming in the door at 6:00 p.m. with two sacks of groceries and Jackson was lying on the couch and the first thing he said to me was, "Mom, just so you know, I was hungry so I ate three donuts."

And I was all, Seriously, son? I mean, I guess it's cute if you're becoming the voracious teenage boy who can put away two or three dinners a night, but come on. We're not there yet, are we? You're only twelve and where the hell did those donuts come from?

I MADE THIS FOR YOU

Lastly, here's a drawing I made for a yoga friend who donated to my Red Cross/Charity Water campaign last fall and guess what? I'm STILL not done with all the drawings I owe people and I'm going to have to start another campaign in a minute and I think I'm just going to do tote bags this year. Anyway, I am really, really pleased with this one and it makes me want to do more yoga-specific figure drawings. Just line drawings of happy people doing crazy things with their bodies, nothing fancy.

sonja_asana